Historic Preservation in Cades Cove


Cable Mill

by karin turnmire

There are many stops along the Cades Cove Loop in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While you can stop anytime and along the road the designated stops are markers of remnants of the Cades Cove community. The Missionary Baptist Church was one of three churches that Cades Cove residents could attend and its graveyard is the site of many burials of prominent members of the community, including the Tipton and Gregory families. Besides religion, another important element to the community in Cades Cove was the Cable Mill. This provided source of water, food, and income for the Cable family and consequently others in Cades Cove.

            In the early 1900s when the national park was being planned out, their chief concern was what areas to conserve and what should be preserved. In Cades Cove, the things that were preserved were the churches, homes of selected prominent individuals, and a few places that were essential to the culture of Cades Cove- including the mill. The mill is centralized in the hub of the loop where the bathrooms and gift shop are, which attracts a lot of visitors to the still working mill. In his chapter “Death by Eminent Domain” in Cades Cove, The Life and Death of A Southern Appalachian Community Durwood Dunn explains that Primitive Baptist Church continued to conduct services and maintain the cemetery until the 1960s because they paid a yearly lease. However, now all of the remaining structures are maintained by the Park Service. Dunn also explains in the chapter that when the residents sold their farms and properties to the government, they were allowed to remain there. This may be why there have been burials within the last year in some of the cemeteries in the cove; the families still have a right and connection to the land. This is a large part of why these structures remain, it is a sign of respect for the preservation of the memories of the families that built a community that lasted over 100 years.

Missionary Baptist Church

            Overall the preservation of these buildings built by cove residents contributes to the legacy of Appalachian otherness. In 1945 the Park Service designated Cades Cove as a historical site, which spurred the restoration of the remaining structures throughout the cove. There are signs that tell the history of many of these sites, including the Cable Mill and farm areas where there are educational programs in place to educate visitors on the community that was established in 1818. While the park was established to help the conservation movement, there was a push to also preserve the memory of those who inhabited this region and their culture that is so different from urban areas that were flourishing when this community was frozen in time, in a way.

            The motivation for preserving the culture of Cades Cove fits into the increased interest in Appalachia starting in the late 1800s and lasted until modern day, though it waned with the “back-to-the-land” and “neonatives” movements. Historian Paul Salstrom helped in this area by contributing to both of these movements and ultimately becoming involved in the study of Appalachia. While Salstrom was not near Cades Cove, the impact the region had on him is very similar to why the Park Service cares about trying to preserve cultural elements left behind in the cove. In an article by Salstrom, he described how he and many other young people were taught by the locals “subsistence survival skills but also mediated their entrance into local bartering and borrowing networks-the sine qua non of a low-cash lifestyle”. While this experience is not available to everyone, the preservation of the culture of Cades Cove helps the Appalachian otherness of subsistence farming and self-sustainability live on and spread to park visitors all over the world.